Day 2 at the Oxford Real Food & Farming conference

Despite the red wine, I managed to get there on time for the 2nd day, and sat in the gallery to listen to Ben Hartman who wrote ‘Lean Farm.’ His book and farm focus on how to be more efficient and therefore more viable. One suggestion he had was take a photo of the toolshed when it’s tidy and laminate it and put it up, so anyone working or volunteering there knows where to put things back!

Then I went to ’10 years of agri-ecology’ which is a term for social justice as well as organic farming principles. It covered new research from Oxford University showing that methane does not persist in the atmosphere like carbon does. Therefore beef production may not be as much of a climate disaster as previously thought. Jyoti from Landworkers Alliance wasn’t speaking but made some interesting points about land use mapping, and how you need to layer it to get land use down. This could be by feeding food waste to animals or dairy production on arable leys.

Quote is from Chomsky

Then I went to one called ‘Using story to reshape the food system” about using social media to take people on ajourney and let them interact with farmers. I knew this was going to be good, as Guy Singh-Watson from Riverford and Josiah Meldrum from Hodmedod’s are really good speakers. Guy explained how he paid £500,000 to an advertising company to tell him that people react to an emotional story, not facts and figures. He advised that they use their newsletter to communicate why broad beans have chocolate spot or the potatoes have scab. It definately gave me food for thought about how I communicate with the box scheme customers. Josiah from Hodmedod’s said they used art, to convey the history and methodology of the unsexy British bean. And he noted the importance of the farmer receiving nice messages about what customers have done with their 500g bag of dried peas. As someone who stands on the market stalls, I already know who this is so fufilling to hear.

And the final session of the day, and the most dramatic was “Linking sustainable and healthy diets to farming outputs” with George Monbiot and Joanna Blythman. George kicked off by comparing delegates to typewriter manufacturers in the 1970s who were excited by carbon paper or Kodak in the 1980s. He said farmer’s were not noticing the jaugernaut, and that the change from food being produced on farms to food produced in factories was coming int he nick of time to feed people and the planet. He said the proteins in meat and milk would be manufactured in labs. He did say that local organic veg production would be least affected by this, and did make a difference to climate change, but I still can’t say I agreed with him. I feel this kind of confrontational attitude would have been better aimed at the National Union of Farmer’s conference down the road, rather than for an audience made up of experts in sustainable, organic and compassionate farming.

Thankfully, the wonderful food journalist Joanna Blythman, stepped up to speak next and wiped the floor with him in a calm and dignified way. As somone who was very influenced by her ‘Shopped, The Shocking Power of British Supermarkets’ published in 2004, it was great to find she’s was also a great speaker. She is a believer in basing your diet on whole, unprocessed foods that you cook yourself, and spoke about sustainable land use that uses animals for fertility. We use organic chicken muck from Abbey Leys Farm to fertilise the land that we grow our veg on. She spoke against the current neuroticism surrounding food, and pointed out to George that telling foreign countries not to eat meat was a colonial mindset. She noted that in the UK butter, milk and meat were the best produce, and that we didn’t have the growing conditions of Tuscany (don’t I know it!) She called George “intellectually dishonest” and said he seems to think he had intellectual property rights on climate change. Ouch! He totally deserved it.

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